You are Now Starting: Unit 4 – Poker Psychology

During this unit we are going to focus on the psychology of poker, including how to work out what our opponent is thinking, the challenge of reading poker tells when you can’t see your opponent (online poker tells) and the importance of your own decision making.

When you are trying to play winning poker your not only trying to make objectively good moves, but you are also attempting to keep the nature of your moves concealed from your opponents whilst simultaneously trying to figure out what they are doing so you can counteract it.

The psychology of poker plays a big part in the game and its an important skill for you to learn.

Poker Tells: Poker Psychology starts with Observation

Poker Tells - The difference between good players and great players is a great player’s ability to read their opponents.

The difference between good players and great players is a great player’s ability to read their opponents.

A great player observes his opponents constantly even when they are not even involved in a hand.

They do this so they can pick up as much information on the opponent as they can so that when it comes to a showdown between themselves and a particular opponent they have that information available to use.

Live Poker Tells

In live poker, visible poker tells can be an important factor on working out what hand you opponent has and usually plays a big part in your decision process.

Example: Shaking Hands

If you are playing in a live game and your opponent puts in a large bet, and as he puts his chips in you notice his hands shaking, this usually means that he has a big hand and the adrenaline is pumping through his body. You may use this tell to make the decision to lay your hand down.

Tells play a big part in live games where you are face to face with your opponents, and can watch their mannerisms and actions. Of course in online poker we don’t have that physical aspect, we can’t see our opponents and they can’t see us either.

Therefore, Tells are a lot less significant online, as you can’t see the person you are playing, it’s impossible to see if their hands are shaking or other visible tells. You are forced to rely more on betting patterns, but there are some tells that can be used online which we’ll discuss later in this lesson.

Online Poker Tells

Poker Tells are anything that you can spot whilst observing your opponents which help you to work out what hand they are holding or what the intentions of their actions are.

Although we cannot use visible poker tells in online poker for obvious reasons, there are still a number of tells that we can use Online to help us get into the minds of our opponent and help us in our decision process.

Fundamental Poker Tell rule

“Weak means Strong, and Strong means Weak” 

This is the underlying fundamental rule to Poker Tells, when humans want to conceal their true intentions, they tend to act the opposite of what they really mean. This applies online just as much as in live poker.

The Online Pause Tell

A Long Pause followed by a check – usually means opponent has a weak hand

A Long Pause followed by a bet – usually means opponent has a strong hand

Bear in mind there are many reasons your opponent may pause such as bad internet connection or a quick visit to the bathroom etc. however apart from these situations it is usually indicative of a subconscious action.

  • Long Pause followed by a check = My Hand is too weak or I don’t have odds to bet, or I am scared of your hand. 
  • Long Pause followed by a bet or raise = I have given this a lot of thought and I think my hand is strong enough to win this pot, or my hand is better than yours I’m betting. 

This isn’t always the case, and you should always be wary of a trap.

The Bet Size Tell

Opponents who use the same bet size for certain situations 

Keep an eye out for players who have a significant betting pattern before the flop.

It’s surprising how many players will raise 2 times the big blind when they have a good hand (as they don’t want to scare away other players) and 4 times the big blind if they are trying to steal (to put more pressure on people to fold).

Other players will do the opposite of this and other players will have different sizes of bet for each. But if you keep an eye on this you can sometimes spot this constant bet size pattern and use it as a tell to act accordingly.

The Talker Tell

If someone says something about their hand mid way through a round, then 90% of the time they will be telling the truth. 

Now this is against what you naturally think, as your first thought is he has to be lying because otherwise he wouldn’t be telling it.

People that use this tactic know that most people think like this and only brag about a hand or give information about their hand away when they want other people not to believe them and call.

Its not too often you come across players who use this tactic, but if you do watch them and see if the above is correct, then next time it happens you can act appropriately using your tell.

Here is a great example of the Talker Tell. The final hand of the WSOP Main Event 2006 and Jamie Gold demonstrates this perfectly for us.


So the point of this section is to emphasise the importance of always observing your opponents. Play a game with yourself, each time you are not involved in a hand watch the play and watch the betting patterns, try and guess what hands your opponents are holding, and every time you get to see the cards at the end of the hand, see how close you got to guessing correctly.

At first you will probably get things pretty wrong, but over time and with practice you will get surprisingly accurate and it will play a huge part in your game.

One other point I would like to make is showing your hand when you don’t have to – As a beginner you shouldn’t show any cards that you don’t have to. Each time you do this you are giving away free information to your opponents. You should always Muck your hand when given the opportunity. There are situations where it may be beneficial to show your hand, but we talk more about this in Unit 5.